America's Most Wanted
is an American TV show produced by 20th Century Fox
's syndication division, and is the longest-running program of any kind in the history of Fox
The show's chief purpose is to assist law enforcement in the apprehension of fugitives wanted for major felonies (such as murder, rape, child molestation, white collar crime, armed robbery, gang violence and terrorism). Numerous fugitives profiled on the show are currently on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, and AMW
has a separate "Dirty Dozen" list on its web site outlining twelve notorious criminals still at large (some of whom are on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list). On May 2, 2008, the program's web site announced its 1,000th capture; to date, over 1,100 fugitives have been captured as a direct result of tips offered to the show's toll-free and anonymous tipline. Dramatic re-creations of the crimes committed are an important part of the show's arsenal, and the show itself works closely with law enforcement agencies worldwide to help catch fugitives.
The concept for America's Most Wanted
was adapted from the 1960s German show Aktenzeichen XY... ungelöst
(File Number XY... Unsolved
) and the 1984 British show Crimewatch
's first episode aired in February 1988, and within four days of the broadcast, one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives was captured as a direct result of a tip phoned in to the show; this capture helped to sell the show's premise of "Watch TV, Catch Criminals" to skeptical law enforcement officials.
After the pilot's premiere, Fox eventually hired John Walsh to host the program. Walsh became a public figure after his 6-year-old son, Adam, was kidnapped and murdered in 1981; Walsh and others had successfully persuaded Congress to create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Walsh has been the host of the show ever since, and has sometimes appeared at the arrests of high-profile fugitives who have been captured thanks to the program.
In the fall of 1996, Fox cancelled the show; this would prove to be a short cancellation. Low ratings of the shows that replaced it — combined with a massive effort from fans, numerous law enforcement and government officials, and the governors of 37 states
— successfully persuaded Fox to uncancel
the show just six weeks later. The program was rechristened America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back
upon its return, and the program resumed its regular Saturday night timeslot, paired with reality show Cops
; the two-hour Cops
block was the longest unchanged primetime schedule in the history of American television.
Fox announced the cancellation of AMW
again in 2011; instead of continuing the show as a weekly program — citing rising unprofitability due to high production costs as the chief culprit behind the decision — Fox replaced it in the following fall with repeats of other Fox shows such as Family Guy
and The Cleveland Show
, but still presented two-hour AMW
specials every quarter up until April 2012. Lifetime
ended up being the show's savior, with new weekly episodes appearing on the cable channel in the fall of 2012, but they too eventually cancelled the program and dropped it from itself schedule altogether.
Later in 2013, Lifetime aired a one-shot special called John Walsh Investigates
. On July 13, 2014, John Walsh returned to television on a regular basis again with an all-new series on CNN
entitled The Hunt with John Walsh
, which is more of an expansion of AMW
in that the program doesn't just showcase wanted American criminals, but more emphasis on criminals all over the world.
Tropes featured include:
- But I Play One on TV: Apparently a recurring problem is that tipsters will frequently call the police to report seeing the actors who do the reenactments instead of the actual crooks. Apparently a couple have had to have special cards assigned to show police because it happened so frequently.
- Catch Phrase: "Remember, you can make a difference." And how true that is.
- Channel Hop: Fox to Lifetime.
- Crime Reconstruction
- Dare to Be Badass: See the Catch Phrase above.
- Pater Familicide: John List murdered his entire family rather than admit to them that he lost his job and that the family was in dire financial trouble. He went into hiding and adopted an alias and remarried and would probably have gotten away with his crime if not for AMW doing a special on him. What helped matters considerably was the fact that the show chose to use the talents of the late Frank Bender, a forensic sculptor who created a bust of what List would've looked like at the time of the episode's airing. When compared to the real, then-contemporary List upon his capture, Bender's sculpture looked almost exactly like his subject— right down to the style of glasses he wore. Bender studied personality profiles and pictures of List's aged parents in order to make the bust.
- Phone Number Jingle: Not really a jingle, but most anyone can recall 1-800-CRIME-TV as the show's call-in tip number. In the first few years "TV" was the year number until enterprising people grabbed most of the numbers corresponding to the late 90's (also, it made more sense to keep the same number no matter the year rather than force tippers to remember yet another new number at the turn of the new year).
- Screwed by the Network: Big time, and screwed is actually putting it lightly. First, FOX canceled the series in 2011, citing various different reasons, ranging from the show being too expensive to produce, to low ratings (though it appears that after its cancelation, they just wanted to use the slot to air even more Family Guy); FOX continued with quarterly specials up till 2012, when the series was moved to Lifetime to resume broadcast. Lifetime aired the series for only one season from 2012 to 2013, and eventually axed it as well, because of the royalties they were having to pay FOX since they still own the copyright for the show and it's related intellectual properties.
- Throw It In: Occasionally, they'll be stuck on a case and will have a wild idea they try that actually worked surprisingly well. In one case, they had a body with no obvious means of identifying him. One thing they noticed was that he had several distinct tattoos. So they painted replicas on a model (according to Walsh in a later interview, he was a dancer for Thunder Down Under) which led to a woman calling in and identifying him as her uncle.
- True Crime
- Un-Canceled: Twice!